LOS ANGELES – A flesh-eating “zombie drug” called xylazine has been saturating the streets of Los Angeles with severe, deadly effects when mixed with illicit opioids.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s officials launched a new program to track the troubling prevalence of the substance, which is a sedative typically used by veterinarians to anesthetize animals.
Also known as “tranq” or “tranq dope” on the streets, xylazine has become increasingly present in the illicit drug supply. The drug can be cooked down into a powder form and mixed with illicit opioids such as heroin and fentanyl or pressed into counterfeit pills or sedatives.
The “zombie drug” nickname stems from the substance’s known effect of rotting the skin.
Growing concerns over the increasing prevalence of xylazine in L.A. have law enforcement officials and addiction specialists extremely concerned.
“I’ve never seen anything like what we’re dealing with right now,” said Cary Quashen, an addiction expert.
Xylazine is known to have severe effects, sometimes disfiguring users who develop sores, causing limb amputation in some cases, along with death from overdosing.
“We had a woman come in and her sister had passed away from a fentanyl overdose,” recalled Quashen. “But not only was it a fentanyl overdose (but) her skin was starting to rot, the muscles on her leg and her arm. So that’s a sure sign of xylazine.”
L.A. County Sheriff’s officials are now taking steps to track the presence of xylazine in confiscated drugs. Officials said the reason it hasn’t been higher on authorities’ radar is because it technically isn’t an illegal substance.
When crime lab analysts detect xylazine in other illicit substances such as fentanyl, it’s typically not flagged for this reason.
“It’s really gruesomely disfiguring people,” said Bill Bodner, an FBI Special Agent. “It’s much more likely to stop someone from breathing and the things that come along with xylazine, it’s a vasoconstrictor. So when you’re injecting it, it’s actually reducing the blood circulation.”
Both the Drug Enforcement Administration and the L.A. County Health Department have issued urgent warnings about xylazine. Some say the county’s pilot program is a small step in the right direction to fight a massive drug war consisting of a staggering increase in deaths.
“When combined with opioids like fentanyl, as is frequently the case, xylazine enhances the
life-threatening effect of respiratory depression (slowing or stopping breathing) caused by
opioids, increasing the risk of overdose and death,” said county officials.
The new focus on tracking xylazine will give officials a better sense of the drug’s prevalence on L.A. streets and the best way to counter this deadly new threat.